10th arrest made in Manatee County steroid sting

toconnor@bradenton.comMarch 5, 2014 

MANATEE -- A reverse sting involving illegal steroid and testosterone sales resulted in the 10th arrest in Manatee County from one investigation in the past year.

Former Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy James "Jac" Choate, 40, is charged with two counts of possessing steroids with intent to distribute after he was busted July 16, 2013, by an undercover agent representing a joint effort of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

Choate worked for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office from July 1995 through November 2011. He was released from jail Friday after posting $22,500 bail.

On the day of his initial arrest, Choate reportedly ordered 60 vials of anabolic steroids through text messages and on a recorded phone call. He agreed to meet the undercover agent to make the buy at a parking lot at 5810 Ranch Lake Blvd. in Bradenton, according to the arrest affidavit.

Choate arrived at 9:07 a.m. and reportedly gave $700 to the undercover agent for a box full of the illegal steroids. Surveillance agents followed Choate from the recorded drug transaction meeting and later stopped him in the 4200 block of U.S. 301 N. in Ellenton where a search of his vehicle reportedly revealed the contraband. On June 20, nearly a month earlier, Choate had also been involved in a small transaction of illegal testosterone, officials charged.

Using a federal search warrant after the traffic stop, law enforcement agents reportedly seized 69 bottles of various steroids from Choate's home, along with 50 Winstrol pills, five bottles of unopened steroids and $2,070 in cash.

After being busted, officials say Choate volunteered to wear a wire and go undercover himself, according to his arrest affidavit. His role as a confidential informant in an undercover steroids investigation helped lead to the arrest of nine other people, including sheriff's deputies and firefighters.

Acting as a confidential informant, Choate is credited with helping develop charges against two firefighters, three Manatee County sheriff's deputies, a personal trainer and three others. The investigation also led to the termination of a fourth deputy who spoke with Choate about buying steroids but never did.

Choate, officially arrested Thursday, is one of three people to face state charges. Former deputies Tom Frank and Chris Tucker, charged with possession of steroids, entered pre-trial intervention programs to avoid trial.

Choate is the only person charged with intent to distribute in the investigation not facing federal charges.

Former deputy Tom Peel; Wayne Faulkner of West Manatee Fire and Rescue; James Sevier and Aaron Larkin, employers not listed; Andrew Cleveland, a personal trainer at Crunch Fitness on University Parkway; Gregory Waldo of Parrish Fire District; and his wife, Stephanie Waldo, have pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Peel has already been sentenced to two years probation. Sentencing for all others has not yet been handed down.

Choate's name was revealed in October when former sheriff's deputy Robert Craig appealed his termination for conduct unbecoming after having taped conversations with Choate regarding illegal steroids.

Terry O'Connor, night metro editor, can be reached at 941-745-7040 or toconnor@bradenton.com.

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